Category Archives: East Mediterranean

Israel, Bahrain to formalise ties – Israel in move to send delegates.

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Israel to send delegates to Bahrain on Sunday to formalise nascent ties following US-brokered normalisation deal.

Israel and Bahrain will officially establish diplomatic relations on Sunday at a ceremony in Manama, an Israeli official said, after the two states reached a US-brokered normalisation deal last month.

A visiting delegation from Israel and officials in Bahrain will sign a “joint communique (that) is the establishment of full diplomatic relations,” an Israel official in Manama told reporters.

Once the text is signed at a ceremony scheduled for Sunday evening, Israel and Bahrain will be free to open embassies in each other’s countries, the official said.

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The United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain became the third and fourth Arab states to agree to normalise ties with Israel, following Egypt’s peace deal with Israel in 1979 and a 1994 pact with Jordan.

Sunday’s meeting follows a September 15 ceremony at the White House when Israel, the UAE and Bahrain inked the so-called “Abraham Accords” brokered by President Donald Trump’s administration.

The delegation, led by Israeli National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat, will be accompanied by US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, whose office said the mission seeks “expanded economic cooperation” among Israel, Bahrain and UAE.

In addition to the joint communique establishing diplomatic ties, Israel and Bahrain are expected to sign “six to eight” MoUs, including on economic cooperation, the Israeli official said.

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The official said he could not outline the substance of all the agreements scheduled for signature on Sunday, but security cooperation is likely to feature prominently in bilateral talks.

Earlier this month, Israel’s Mossad spy agency chief Yossi Cohen held talks in Bahrain with top security and intelligence officials on “topics of mutual interest,” according to the Bahrain News Agency.

Mnuchin and another senior Trump aide, Middle East envoy Avi Berkowitz, will continue on Monday to the UAE, whose accord with Israel has opened up the possibilities of bilateral commerce. On Tuesday, the US dignitaries will accompany the UAE’s first delegation to Israel.

From left: Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, US President Donald Trump, Bahrain Foreign Minister Abdullatif Al Zayani and UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed wave from the White House balcony after signing the Abraham Accords [File: Tom Brenner/ Reuters]

Israel and the UAE have reached a bilateral agreement that will give incentives and protection to investors who make investments in each other’s countries, both finance ministries said on Sunday.

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The UAE finance ministry said the agreement – which still needs to be signed by both finance ministers – would protect investments from non-commercial risks such as “nationalisation, confiscation, judicial seizures, freezing assets, establishing licensed investments, and transferring profits and revenues in convertible currencies”.

Last week, the UAE and Israel reached a preliminary agreement on a separate deal that would avoid double taxation.

The Palestinian leadership has condemned the Gulf normalisation agreements with Israel as “a stab in the back” for Palestinian aspirations to establish an independent state of their own.

The deals mark a distinct shift in a decades-old status quo where Arab countries have tried to maintain unity against Israel over its treatment of the stateless Palestinians.

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Israel’s right-wing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insists that more states in the Middle East want ties with Israel as priorities have shifted, arguing that countries now value lucrative trade opportunities above the Palestinian conflict.

But key player Saudi Arabia has said it will not follow its allies Bahrain and the UAE in establishing diplomatic relations without a resolution to the Palestinian issue.

Israel’s parliament on Thursday ratified the normalisation agreement with the UAE.

A separate vote on the Bahrain pact is expected once the details are finalised


#Newsworthy…

Turkey swelling illegal drilling in Eastern Mediterranean – Cyprus accuses.

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Ahead of special summit on crisis, Cypriot leader raises alarm as EU chief warns Ankara against intimidating neighbours.

Cyprus has accused Turkey of extending “illegal drilling” in disputed Mediterranean waters but said it is ready to engage in dialogue with Ankara to resolve differences over exploration rights.

On Tuesday, Turkey extended the operations of its Yavuz energy drill ship in the disputed area off Cyprus until October 12, in a move that could stir tension between the island’s Greek Cypriot government and Ankara.

“Yesterday, unfortunately a Turkish NAVTEX to expand illegal drilling by the Yavuz vessel was extended when at the same time, a series of initiatives are ongoing that seek an end to Ankara’s unlawful actions and de-escalation,” President Nicos Anastasiades said on Wednesday, after a meeting with European Council President Charles Michel in Nicosia.

Yavuz will be accompanied by three other Turkish ships, according to a Turkish maritime notice that added “all vessels are strongly advised not to enter” the area, Turkish broadcaster TRT reported.

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Anastasiades’s comments come a week ahead of a special summit of European Union leaders on September 24-25 to discuss how to resolve the crisis between Cyprus and Turkey.

Anastasiades said Turkey was continuing its provocations in the Eastern Mediterranean, adding Cyprus would enter dialogue – but not under threats.

Meanwhile, the European Commission’s president on Wednesday warned Turkey against trying to intimidate Greece and Cyprus.

In her annual State of the EU speech, Ursula von der Leyen said Ankara was a key partner doing important work hosting refugees but stressed “none of this is justification for attempts to intimidate its neighbours”.

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Turkey, Greece and Cyprus have been locked in a dispute over energy resources and maritime borders in the region, with Ankara infuriating the EU countries by sending research ships with naval escorts to work in contested waters.

There have been fears of conflict erupting and Cyprus is pressing the rest of the EU to impose fresh sanctions on Ankara over the drilling, a move Turkey has decried as lacking legal basis.

“Turkey is and will always be an important neighbour, but while we are close together on the map, the distance between us appears to be growing,” Von der Leyen told the European Parliament.

Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades and European Council President Charles Michel bump elbows after the news conference at the Presidential Palace in Nicosia, Cyprus September 16, 2020 [Yiannis Kourtoglou/Reuters]

“Yes, Turkey is in a troubled neighbourhood. And yes, it is hosting millions of refugees, for which we support them with considerable funding. But none of this is justification for attempts to intimidate its neighbours.”

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Greece and Cyprus can count on Europe’s “full solidarity on protecting their legitimate sovereignty rights”, she added.

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has called for European “solidarity” on the issue and a renewed migrant crisis.

Mevlut Cavusoglu, Turkey’s foreign minister, said his country has been proposing to restart exploratory talks with Greece.

“Exploratory talks actually cover all disputed issues between Turkey and Greece … The previous government [in Greece] … didn’t want to actually restart. And this government also has not been willing to restart the exploratory talks, so we have to make an agreement,” he said.


#Newsworthy…

East Mediterranean: Greece lauds return of turkish research vessel.

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Greek government calls the departure of the Oruc Reis from disputed waters after weeks of tension ‘a positive step’.

A Turkish seismic survey vessel, whose research in a disputed area of the eastern Mediterranean has been at the heart of a weeks-long standoff between Ankara and Athens, has returned to waters near southern Turkey – a move Greece said was a positive first step in easing tensions over offshore natural resources.

But Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar played down the significance of the move, saying the ship had returned to shore as part of scheduled plans and insisted it did not mean Ankara was “giving up our rights there”.

“There will be planned movements backwards and forwards,” Akar told state news agency Anadolu in Antalya, southern Turkey, on Sunday.

Neighbours and NATO allies Turkey and Greece have overlapping claims to continental shelves and rights to potential energy resources in the eastern Mediterranean. Tensions flared last month after Ankara sent Oruc Reis to map out possible oil and gas drilling prospects in waters claimed by Greece, Cyprus and Turkey.

Turkey’s navy had issued an advisory earlier this month saying the vessel would continue operations in the area until September 12. Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu had said it would continue exploratory operations for longer but no extension to the advisory was issued as of noon.

Refinitiv ship tracking data showed Oruc Reis, along with two accompanying naval vessels, returned to a location just off the coast of Antalya.

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The move was welcomed by Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis on Sunday.

“The return of Oruc Reis is a positive first step, I hope there will be continuity. We want to talk with Turkey but in a climate without provocations,” he told reporters in Thessaloniki.

Ankara faces potential sanctions from the European Union, which fully supports member states Greece and Cyprus, over the dispute. But many states, including Germany, want to defuse the stand-off through dialogue.

“A sanctions list exists as an option [against Turkey]. Our desire is not to see it implemented but it will be done if we see that the other side is not returning to the path of logic,” Mitsotakis said.

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The dispute over potential oil and gas reserves triggered a military build-up in the eastern Mediterranean, with Turkey and Greece both dispatching warships to the area and conducting military exercises to assert their claims.

The Turkish seismic research vessel Oruc Reis [File:Turkish Ministry of Energy/Handout via Reuters]

Turkey has repeatedly said it is open to solving issues with Greece through dialogue but publicly rejected any conditions, including Oruc Reis halting operations, before negotiations.

“If there are those who set preconditions for Turkey, we have preconditions too and these preconditions need to be met,” Cavusoglu said during a news conference on Saturday, without elaborating.

Earlier in September, Mitsotakis said his country would only start talks with Turkey to resolve conflicting claims once Turkish “provocations” ceased.

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Turkey rejects EU criticism and says the bloc should remain impartial in the dispute, arguing the waters where exploratory natural gas drilling was being conducted were part of its Turkish continental shelf.

Turkey says it has a legitimate claim over the area in the eastern Mediterranean. There is no agreement between Greece and Turkey delimiting their continental shelves, while Turkey disputes any claims by Cyprus, with which it has no diplomatic relations.

Cyprus was split in a Turkish invasion in 1974 triggered by a brief Greek-inspired coup. Its internationally recognised Greek Cypriot government represents the whole island in the European Union, though its authority is effectively contained to the southern part. North Cyprus is an unrecognised Turkish Cypriot state recognised only by Ankara.

James Ker-Lindsay, a professor at the London School of Economics, said at the heart of the dispute is a 1924 maritime accord agreement between Turkey and Greece that is now outdated. He said Turkey is claiming one tiny Greek island is cutting off its access to vast gas resources.

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“It’s an incredibly complex problem. A hundred years ago the two sorted out their borders but times have changed. International law was in a very different place, you couldn’t explore deep waters. But with technology we’ve now been able to,” he told Media known to Noble Reporters Media.

Amid the tension, Mitsotakis on Saturday announced a “robust” arms purchase programme and an overhaul of the country’s military.

In a keynote address in Thessaloniki, he said Greece would acquire 18 French-made Rafale warplanes, four multipurpose frigates, and four navy helicopters, while also recruiting 15,000 new troops and pouring resources into the national arms industry and cyberattack defence. New anti-tank weapons, navy torpedoes and air force missiles will also be secured, he added.

Mitsotakis is believed to have hammered out the programme after talks with French President Emmanuel Macron during a southern European leaders summit in Corsica this week. France has strongly backed Greece in its burgeoning showdown with Turkey, as well as Cyprus.

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Meanwhile, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Saturday took aim at Macron following French criticism of Turkish maritime activities in the eastern Mediterranean, as tensions between the NATO allies continue to escalate.

“You will have many more problems with me,” Erdogan said in a televised speech in Istanbul. “Don’t mess with the Turkish people. Don’t mess with Turkey.”

Separately on Saturday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called for a diplomatic solution to the dispute between Greece and Turkey, saying continuing military tensions between the NATO allies only serve the alliance’s enemies.

“Increased military tensions help no one but adversaries who would like to see division in transatlantic unity,” Pompeo said after talks in Nicosia with Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades.


#Newsworthy…

Research machine at East Mediterranean heart moves back near Turkey shore

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Greek government calls the departure of the Oruc Reis from disputed area after weeks of tension ‘a positive step’.

A Turkish seismic survey vessel, whose research in a disputed area of the eastern Mediterranean has been at the heart of a weeks-long standoff between Ankara and Athens, has returned to waters near the southern Turkish province of Antalya.

Neighbours and NATO allies Turkey and Greece have overlapping claims to continental shelves and rights to potential energy resources in the eastern Mediterranean. Tensions flared last month after Ankara sent Oruc Reis to map out possible oil and gas drilling prospects in waters claimed by Greece, Cyprus and Turkey.

Turkey’s navy had issued an advisory earlier this month saying that the vessel would continue operations in the area until September 12. Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu had said it would continue exploratory operations for longer but no extension to the advisory was issued as of noon on Sunday.

Refinitiv ship tracking data showed Oruc Reis, along with two accompanying vessels, had returned to a location just off the coast of Antalya on Sunday.

The return of the Oruc Reis near Turkey’s southern shore was welcomed by the Greek government.

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“This is a positive step. We will see how this develops to make a proper assessment,” government spokesman Stelios Petsas told Skai, a television broadcaster.

Military build-up
The dispute over potential oil and gas reserves triggered a military build-up in the eastern Mediterranean, with Turkey and Greece both dispatching warships to the area and conducting military exercises to assert their claims.

Turkey has repeatedly said it is open to solving issues with Greece through dialogue but had publicly rejected any pre-conditions, including Oruc Reis halting operations, before negotiations.

“If there are those who set pre-conditions for Turkey, we have pre-conditions too and these pre-conditions need to be met,” Cavusoglu said during a news conference on Saturday, withour elaborating.

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Earlier in September, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said his country would only start talks with Turkey to resolve conflicting claims once Turkish “provocations” ceased.

Meanwhile, Turkish Minister of Defence Hulusi Akar said on Sunday in Antalya’s district of Kas that Turkey supports peace and dialogue “if our wishes and demands are fulfilled”.

His comments came as Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou visited the Greek island of Kastellorizo, located directly across the Mediterranean from Kas

The European Union, of which Greece is a member, has criticised Ankara for its actions and threatened sanctions as punishment.

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Turkey rejects the criticism and says the bloc should remain impartial in the dispute, arguing that the waters where exploratory natural gas drilling was being conducted were part of its Turkish continental shelf.

Pompeo in Cyprus
Amid the tension, Mitsotakis on Saturday announced a “robust” arms purchase programme and an overhaul of the country’s military.

In a keynote address in Thessaloniki, he said Greece would acquire 18 French-made Rafale warplanes, four multipurpose frigates, and four navy helicopters, while also recruiting 15,000 new troops and pouring resources into the national arms industry and cyberattack defence. New anti-tank weapons, navy torpedoes and air force missiles will also be secured, he added.

The Turkish seismic research vessel Oruc Reis [File:Turkish Ministry of Energy/Handout via Reuters]

Mitsotakis is believed to have hammered out the programme after talks with French President Emmanuel Macron during a southern European leaders summit in Corsica this week. France has strongly backed Greece in its burgeoning showdown with Turkey, as well as Cyprus.

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Meanwhile, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Saturday took aim at Macron following French criticism about Turkish maritime activities in the eastern Mediterranean, as tensions between the NATO allies continue to escalate.

“You will have many more problems with me,” Erdogan said in a televised speech in Istanbul. “Don’t mess with the Turkish people. Don’t mess with Turkey.”

Separately on Saturday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called for a diplomatic solution to the dispute between Greece and Turkey, saying continuing military tensions between the NATO allies only serve the alliance’s enemies.

“Increased military tensions help no one but adversaries who would like to see division in transatlantic unity,” Pompeo said after talks in Nicosia with Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades.


#Newsworthy…

Turkish forces begin military exercises in Cyprus.

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France, meanwhile, says sanctions against Ankara are on the table during European Council meeting later this month.

Turkey’s armed forces on Sunday began annual exercises in the breakaway republic of Northern Cyprus – an entity recognised only by Ankara – as tensions continue to rise with Greece in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Turkey’s hunt for gas and oil reserves in waters claimed by Greece has put a huge strain on the relationship between the two NATO members.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Saturday raised the stakes by warning Greece: “They will either understand the language of politics and diplomacy, or on the field through bitter experiences.”

As tensions run high, the Turkish military began its exercises called “Mediterranean Storm” with the Turkish Cypriot Security Command, Vice President Fuat Oktay said on Twitter.

“The security priorities of our country and the TRNC [Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus] are indispensable, along with diplomatic solutions in the Eastern Mediterranean,” Oktay said.

The Turkish defence ministry also tweeted the military exercises, which last until Thursday, continued “successfully”.

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Cyprus is divided between the Greek Cypriot-run south – an EU member state – and the Turkish Cypriot north.

Turkey sanctions
Meanwhile, France said Turkey’s escalating conflict with Greece and Cyprus will be the main subject at this month’s European Council meeting, when sanctions will be considered against Ankara.

Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said he and his counterparts in other EU countries had already discussed “the range of reprisals we could take with regards to Turkey”.

Turkey embarked on a military-backed hydrocarbon exploration venture in waters between Greece and Cyprus on August 10, ratcheting up tensions in a strategic corridor of the Eastern Mediterranean.

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Greece responded with naval exercises to defend its maritime territory, which were later bolstered by the deployment of French frigates and fighter jets.

‘Up to the Turks’
The dispute between NATO members has underscored the rising geopolitical risks in the area as Turkey pursues more aggressively nationalist policies under Erdogan.

The European Union’s diplomatic chief Josep Borrell has also raised the possibility of sanctions against Ankara, but so far Paris has been unable to persuade other EU nations to join its hardline response.

Le Drian urged Erdogan to begin talks over its Eastern Mediterranean ambitions between now and the European Council meeting.

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“It’s up to the Turks to show that this matter … can be discussed,” he told France Inter radio. “If so, we can create a virtuous circle for all the problems on the table.”

While he declined to specify the type of sanctions Ankara could face, he said there was an “entire series of measures”.

“We are not short of options – and he knows that,” said Le Drian referring to Erdogan.

The European Council meeting is set to meet on September 24-25.


#Newsworthy…

East Mediterranean: Turkish leader, Erdogan threatens Greece.

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Turkish president warns Greece to enter talks over disputed Mediterranean Sea claims or face ‘painful experiences’.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned Greece to enter talks over disputed eastern Mediterranean territorial claims or face the consequences.

“They’re either going to understand the language of politics and diplomacy, or in the field with painful experiences,” he said on Saturday at a hospital’s opening ceremony in Istanbul.

The two NATO allies have been locked for weeks in a tense standoff in the eastern Mediterranean, where Turkey is prospecting the seabed for energy reserves in an area Greece claims as its own continental shelf.

Cyprus has also accused Turkey of breaching its sovereignty by drilling in their waters. All sides have deployed naval and air forces to assert their competing claims in the region.

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“They are going to understand that Turkey has the political, economic and military power to tear up the immoral maps and documents imposed,” Erdogan added, referring to areas marked by Greece and Cyprus as their economic maritime zones.

He said Turkey was “ready for every eventuality and result”.

NATO said this week Greek and Turkish leaders had agreed to take part in technical talks to avoid accidents between their navies.

But Greece later said it had not agreed to the talks, leading to accusations from Turkey that the European Union country was shunning dialogue.

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Tanks to the border?
On Saturday, a Turkish news report said Ankara redeployed armoured personnel carriers from the Syrian border to the one it shares with Greece.

The Cumhuriyet newspaper said 40 tanks were being transported from the Syrian border to Edirne in northwest Turkey and carried photographs of armoured vehicles loaded on trucks.

A military official speaking on condition of anonymity in line with government regulations said the deployment was a regular movement of forces and unconnected to tension with Greece.

Reporting from Istanbul, Noble Reporters Media said officials have only said, “This is within the planned activity, the responsibility of the second army, [which is] responsible for the areas of Syria, Iraq and Iran.”

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If the convoy is indeed heading to the border with Greece, then it is a part of the “diplomatic military arm wrestling in what is a tense situation between the two countries”, Dekker said.

“We just heard from Turkey’s president that … they won’t hesitate even going to a full-on military confrontation when it comes to defending what they say are their legitimate rights.”

Reporting from Athens, Noble Reporters Media said he does not believe the Greeks are concerned about the narrow land border they share with Turkey, as they have 1,300 tanks in their arsenal, most of which are “parked right there in the 130-kilometre-long stretch”.

“There is overwhelming armour opposite the Turkish border and that’s the only part of the Greek-Turkish theatre that the Greeks feel confident about,” Psaropoulos said.

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“What they’re less confident about is the vast swath of the Aegean sea and now eastern Mediterranean sea.”

He added after eight years of recession and austerity measures imposed by its eurozone partners, Greece has cut its defence budget by about half, now amounting to roughly 3 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP).

“The Greeks have traditionally spent very highly on defence. They are now unable to keep up with Turkey, which has almost triple the defence budget of Greece,” Psaropoulos said.

Practicing dogfights
Turkey on August 10 deployed the Oruc Reis research vessel and an escorting flotilla of warships to the waters between Cyprus and the Greek islands of Kastellorizo and Crete. The vessel’s stay in the contested waters has been extended three times.

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Greece responded by staging naval exercises with several EU allies and the United Arab Emirates, not far from smaller manoeuvres Turkey conducted between Cyprus and Crete last week.

Ankara said it has every right to prospect the region and accuses Athens of trying to grab an unfair share of maritime resources.

Simulated dogfights between Greek and Turkish fighter pilots have multiplied over the Aegean Sea and the eastern Mediterranean.

A Turkish and a Greek frigate collided last month, reportedly causing minor damage to the Turkish frigate but no injuries.

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Erdogan said Turkey has repeatedly expressed its willingness to come to a just agreement.

“Our word is sincere,” he said. “The problem is those before us disregard our rights and try to situate themselves above us.”

The crisis is the most serious in the two countries’ relations in decades. The neighbours have come to the brink of war three times since the mid-1970s, including once over maritime resources in the Aegean.

Earlier, Ankara announced joint military exercises with northern Cypriot forces from Sunday to September 10. The air, land, and sea drills are held every year.


#Newsworthy…

Leaders of Greece, Turkey trades insult over East Mediterranean talks.

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Greek PM says cites Ankara’s ‘provocations’ as Turkish FM accuses Athens of lying over intentions to enter dialogue.

Tensions between Greece and Turkey over maritime boundaries in the Eastern Mediterranean have been reignited as political leaders of both countries traded insults amid efforts by NATO to foster dialogue.

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said on Friday his country would only start talks with Turkey to resolve conflicting claims once Turkish “provocations” ceased.

The war of words escalated last month after Turkey dispatched a seismic survey vessel to a disputed area for energy exploration following a maritime deal between Greece and Egypt. Turkey says the pact infringes on its own continental shelf.

“[Our country] can and wants to discuss the demarcation of maritime zones in the Aegean Sea, in the Eastern Mediterranean, based on international law. But not under threats,” Mitsotakis said during a meeting with China’s top diplomat Yang Jiechi, who is visiting Athens.

Mitsotakis made the remarks during a meeting with China’s top diplomat Yang Jiechi [Louisa Gouliamaki/Pool via Reuters]

“Once the provocations end, discussions will begin,” he said, adding that Greece’s foreign minister would deliver a letter from him outlining Athens’ case to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres when the two meet in New York on Friday.

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Also on Friday, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said that Greece and Turkey, both members of the Western alliance, had begun technical talks, but they had yet to agree on a deal to avoid accidental clashes in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Meanwhile, Turkey on Friday accused Greece of shunning the dialogue and lying by denying it had signed up to NATO-brokered talks.

A Greek frigate collided with a Turkish one in August and the two NATO members staged rival war games in the energy-rich but disputed region last week.

Greek and French vessels sail in formation during a joint military exercise in the Mediterranean Sea [Handout/Reuters]

Stoltenberg has said Greek and Turkish leaders “agreed to enter into technical talks at NATO to establish mechanisms for military deconfliction to reduce the risk of incidents and accidents”.

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But Greece said later on Thursday that Athens never agreed to the technical talks, claiming Stoltenberg’s statement did not “correspond to reality”.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Greece did, in fact, agree to the proposal when it was made.

“Greece denied the secretary general’s (remarks) but the one lying here is not the NATO secretary general, it’s Greece itself,” Cavusoglu told reporters in Ankara.

“Greece showed once more than it’s not in favour of dialogue.”


#Newsworthy…

Turkey, Greece to meet over Mediterranean tension.

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Tensions running high over Turkey’s drilling activities, which Greece and Cyprus say violate their sovereignty.


Greece and Turkey are set to hold talks at NATO aimed at preventing clashes in the eastern Mediterranean, where they are at odds over maritime borders and gas exploration rights.

Tensions are running high over Turkey’s drilling activities, which Greece and Cyprus say violate their sovereignty, and both sides have deployed warships in a show of force, raising fears of conflict erupting by accident.

The two NATO allies have now agreed to get together to discuss ways to avoid an armed confrontation, alliance chief Jens Stoltenberg said.

“Following my discussions with Greek and Turkish leaders, the two allies have agreed to enter into technical talks at NATO to establish mechanisms for military de-confliction to reduce the risk of incidents and accidents in the eastern Mediterranean,” he said in a statement on Thursday.

“Greece and Turkey are valued allies, and NATO is an important platform for consultations on all issues that affect our shared security.”

With the talks set to be of a technical military nature, they are unlikely to bring a complete solution to the complex, long-running rivalry between Greece and Turkey.

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But observers hope they will at least offer an opening for further dialogue.

The decision to hold talks comes after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urged the two sides to reduce tensions and open diplomatic channels to ease the crisis.

Greek and French vessels sail in formation during a joint military exercise in the Mediterranean sea [File: Greek Ministry of Defence Handout/Reuters]

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan struck a defiant tone this week, extending the gas exploration mission and saying Ankara would not be intimidated by Greece’s support from European military powers such as France.

Large reserves of natural gas are believed to be located in the eastern Mediterranean, which Turkey is exploring in maritime areas claimed by Cyprus or Greece.

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Ankara sent out drillships to explore for energy on its continental shelf, saying it and the self-declared Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) have hydrocarbon exploration rights in the region.

Greece has disputed Turkey’s current energy activities in the eastern Mediterranean, trying to box in Turkish maritime territory based on small Greek islands near the Turkish coast.

The European Union has been watching the escalating dispute with growing concern, with Germany spearheading efforts to get the sides to temper the rhetoric and settle their differences through talks.

The EU has repeatedly urged Turkey to stop its exploration activities and threatened to slap sanctions on Ankara if it refused to solve the dispute through dialogue.


#Newsworthy…